Platelet rich plasma injections, or PRP, represent an exciting approach to healing injuries and wounds. It’s a form of regenerative medicine that entered the popular consciousness when Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver Hines Ward was treated with PRP in 2009 right before the Super Bowl; without it, Ward probably would not have been able to play.
Of course, PRP is not just for sports stars, and the doctors at Regenerative Medicine Specialists have been applying it successfully to patients with ligament strains, tendonitis, muscle strains, arthritis, and more.
What Makes PRP So Useful?
PRP is a powerful, effective, and affordable way to treat a variety of conditions because platelets contain many different growth factors which stimulate tissue growth. (Platelets themselves are a normal type of blood cell which works to help stop bleeding and speed healing in the event of an injury.)
These growth factors help bring in undifferentiated cells (stem cells) to the injury area, and help stimulate their growth. Another component, known as stromal cell derived factor 1 alpha, helps these newly recruited cells adhere to the injured area.
PRP does not stop there, however. When a PRP injection is combined with stem cells harvested from bone marrow or fat, the PRP actively encourages the stem cells to multiply and grow quickly, further driving healing. Platelet rich plasma injections also stimulate collagen growth — collagen being the main component in connective tissues like cartilage and tendons.
In other words, PRP (particularly combined with stem cells) helps accelerate the healing process into “overdrive.”
How PRP Works
A PRP injection needs to be prepared so it includes as many platelets as possible and a high concentration of growth factor. The more growth factors which can be delivered to the area, of course, the more likely it is that healing will take place.
PRP intentionally does the opposite of what more traditional treatments aim to achieve. Treatments with steroid injections and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) primarily aim to reduce the inflammation in the area, which unfortunately impedes the process of healing.
The PRP itself is prepared by drawing blood from the patient and then spinning the blood in a specially designed centrifuge which separates out the platelets. Generally 20ccs of blood from the patient yield just 2-10cc worth of platelet rich plasma.
The platelet rich plasma is then injected into the area with damaged tissue. The injected PRP draws macrophages (the white blood cells) to clean out damaged tissue, and the body forms a protein matrix which gives new tissue a place to attach. Fibroblasts come in to form strong, new collagen fibers for rebuilding any damaged ligaments, tendons, or cartilage. Stem cells come in, too, and differentiate themselves into whatever tissue needs to be healed.
The whole process happens naturally over a period of a few weeks.
Benefits of PRP
PRP has some major advantages compared with traditional therapies. It’s an in-office, outpatient procedure that takes around an hour, with little need for rehabilitation or downtime.
There is no surgery. It simply uses components of your own blood to achieve stronger natural healing. As a therapy it is effective enough that many major sports teams use it as a first-line treatment for their athletes.